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NANO Supermarket

The Nano Supermarket truck parked in Eindhoven during Dutch Design Week proved to be a crowd favourite.  We talk with initiator Koert van Mensvoort.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 08-11-2012

NANO Supermarket is part of the Next Nature Network and presents a series of speculative nanotech products that could hit the shelves within the next ten years: medicinal candy, interactive wall paint, a wine with a taste that can be altered with microwaves and a twitter implant.  It is the brainchild of Koert van Mensvoort.

Van Mensvoort is a tech-head. His education crossed disciplines from computer science to art and philosophy, which is everything design has come to desperately need right now.  His vision strikes just the right balance.

“I appreciate a good chair,” Van Mensvoort says, “but we surely just don’t need any more of them.”

His approach to design is very fundamental.  “It is important to remember that design starts with molecules,” he says.  “Genes, neurons and atoms.  Just look at how humans are intervening with all aspects of life from the environment to the human body.  That is what design is now about.”

Van Mensvoort makes the point that more designers should be stepping forward to take on this challenge.  Design exists and must exist in this future, but because it is everywhere it becomes basically transparent. The speculative objects exhibited in the traveling NANO Supermarket exhibitions help to visualize in a very communicative way what is happening.

“We can not leave this all up to engineers,” Van Mensvoort says.  “They do great work, but I think that they miss specific qualities that are unique to a design mentality.  Designers are good at connecting people to their needs, they have a social and cultural awareness, and an ability to integrate complex situations in one gesture.”

What Van Mensvoort is most proud of thus far with NANO Supermarket is that unlike a lot of what is going on in high-end design, his initiatives are proving of interest to a much broader public.  “I love it that people who are not part of the design establishment are engaging in this debate,” he says.  “That is very important because new technology is changing everybody’s lives so everyone needs to participate in the related discussions.”  

It is true that people with no interest in design can get excited about products like a sock that pulls itself up using energy created by its own movement, and an energy belt that uses a person’s fat to power electrical devices.  There is also a teddy bear made from nicotine-sensitive nano-cloth that monitors a child’s exposure to secondhand smoke by changing from brown to black.

The Nano Wine is made from a basic grape product that is mixed with nano-sized flavour capsules. When exposed to microwaves these capsules release their flavour. Different wattage and duration of exposure means you create a different type of wine.

The NanoLift could give people the ability to change the shape of their faces on a daily basis.  A grid of tiny magnetic nano particles can be injected into the skin and then be adjusted with a magnetic stick.

There is also a gender-determining condom that filters out male and female sperm.  “It obviously doesn’t work yet, but it might one day and we need to start having discussions about all the issues related to these speculative products now,” says Van Mensvoort.  “If you choose what gender kid you have then what about what colour eyes she has, or what her chances of having Alzheimer’s disease are?”

To work on his projects Van Mensvoort deliberately positioned himself in Eindhoven University close to both the industrial design department as well as a lot of scientific research.  “It makes it easier to cooperate,” he says. “I like to have science at my fingertips.”

Of course the hurdle is to find a way to marry these seemingly antagonistic disciplines, especially when it comes to emerging technologies that really need both minds to become relevant.

“It is admittedly hard to do but a way has to be found,” Van Mensvoort says.  “The start point [for successful interdisciplinary cooperation] is that each discipline has to feel equally respected.  Also you need to avoid this cross-over becoming the landing ground of mediocre science and design.  Too often a bad scientist can’t progress so decides to focus instead on artistic research.  The same goes with mediocre designers and artists.  This caliber of input will get us nowhere.”

And it is not for nothing that science, art and design have been separated for as long as anyone can remember.  “They have such different methodologies,” concludes Van Mensvoort,  “but they must be straddled because these two domains need each other.  Right now we have too many scientists spending all their time and money writing research papers that nobody reads … and too many designers who are not addressing the real issues that need to be tackled.” 

Images large from top:  Energy Belt, NanoSock, Nico - Loves Kids, Hates Cigarettes, Programmable Wine, NanoLift - Physical Photoshop, Gender Condoms.
See more about NANO Supermarkets products and events here.

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